Postpartum cooking for neighbors

A neighbor of ours who had their first child about six months after Kaia was born just had her second child a few weeks ago. We bonded over the last few years since we used to go to the gym at the same time and were obsessive about exercise. Plus, we later found out that we both went through IVF to conceive our children. She and her husband had tried naturally to conceive for eight years with no result (I cannot imagine how excruciating that was since every month for a year, I felt annoyed every time I got my period). They took endless tests, and no abnormalities were detected. In year nine, they finally did IVF and were lucky enough to get four genetically tested embryos via one IVF cycle. The first did not “stick,” the second became their first child, a girl; the third also did not stick, and the fourth… is now their newborn son.

I wanted to do something nice for them, so I decided to offer to make them dinner one night. When you are in the newborn fog, and especially with two kids, I’m sure it can be extremely rough. You don’t have the time or energy to cook, so you end up relying on takeout and delivery a bit too much for sustenance. But a home cooked meal is always appreciated and probably healthier for you. So since my friend was already coming over for dinner, I gave my neighbors individual portions of what I made: vegan dal makhani, butter chickpeas, black pepper mushroom fry, pea pulao (rice), corn masala, beet raita with cashew yogurt, mixed green salad with homemade French-style vinaigrette, and vegan lemon olive oil cake. I also gave her a mug of Chinese red date ginger tea and advised her to drink it warm or hot to aid in postpartum recovery. They marveled over the two cookie-sheets worth of food I brought and said how grateful they were for this gesture. “You said you were bringing over dinner, not an entire restaurant!! HOW CAN THERE BE MORE FOOD THAN THIS?” she had exclaimed, when I came with a second tray of food. And surprisingly, our neighbor said she really enjoyed the tea and would like more, which I still have half a jug left of.

When I was younger, I always imagined myself making meals and bringing them over to friends after giving birth as a birthing gift, if you want to call it that. But then I never had any friends who gave birth who lived that close by, so it never happened. I guess this is as close as it’s going to get for me to do something like this for someone, and I’m happy it was well received.

Vegan lemon olive oil cake

Vegan baking is not something I ever imagined really getting into while I was in high school or college. I did bake a few vegan brownie recipes while in college because someone I worked with one summer inspired me with her own veganism. But I always thought of vegan baking as annoying because of all the substitutions that have to be made, and how not intuitive it all is. Eggs are typically used as a binder for cakes, cookies, and pancakes, so what do you use in place of them? The two major options in the realm of vegan baking seem to be a) flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flaxseed to 3 Tbsp water), and 2) aquafaba, which is a term for the bean liquid left in a can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas). How do you get buttery or creamy richness without butter or cream? You can use a rich oil like coconut oil or olive oil, or you can make cashew cream with soaked cashews blended with some water.

Once I started reading about all the alternatives, I realized it actually wasn’t that hard after all. But you can’t really just tweak a recipe and make 1:1 substitutes to make it vegan. You really have to start from scratch. And so I had this vegan lemon olive oil cake bookmarked for ages, but I never made it until today. I got inspired to make it after the non-vegan orange olive oil cake was such a hit at Chris’s mom’s cousin’s place a couple months ago, and I wanted to see how I could make a version of that cake but a) not use as much olive oil and b) not use as many eggs, or any eggs at all, as that recipe I originally used calls for a LOT!). All these ingredients can get really expensive. Plus, we’re living in high inflation times. And for baking, I rarely have heavy cream or cream cheese on hand, so it would be nice to get substitutes that are more pantry-based. This recipe had no egg substitute. I wondered if it would really bind together well or if it would totally fall apart. But I had been following this vegan baking blogger for ages, and she had over 68 5-star reviews, so I figured it had to be a pretty good recipe. I also thought it would turn out well when I saw metric measurements noted on her site. Ever since I got my cheap $10 digital kitchen scale, I don’t think I can go back to regular measuring cups for baking anymore. It’s so exact, and it’s just fun!

So I mixed the batter, added it to my greased, parchment-lined loaf pan, and baked it in the oven for 60 minutes. I let it cool and then unmolded it. Then I took it out and had a small slice, and wow – the edge piece was really crunchy, and the lemon and olive oil flavor really came out beautifully. The crumb was very moist and tight — not even a remote sign of falling apart. I used 10 grams less sugar because it just seemed like a lot of sugar, and the cake was just sweet enough to be called dessert.

I’m planning to share this cake with some neighbors, one of whom just had her second baby. I can’t wait to tell them that this cake is vegan!

Toddlers – they don’t understand why the sidewalk is not the same as the street

Sometimes while walking, Kaia will decide that she doesn’t want to walk anymore and protest walking, so she will literally just stop and sit on the sidewalk — you know, RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE. It doesn’t matter how busy the pedestrian traffic is. She will just stop and sit. Once, she almost stopped and sat within inches of fresh dog poo, and you can imagine how freaked out I was by that. Do you think she even knows what dog poop is?

Twice while walking together, she’s decided she no longer wants to walk and has tried to sit in the middle of the street, while the walking signal is counting down. In those times, I immediately piced her up, tucked her under my arm, and powered towards the other side of the street. I felt like that parent, the one with the screaming, kicking, tantrumming toddler who is just trying to appear calm, cool, and collected in public but whose head is about to implode.

Well, today was a new kind of fun. A few times while on her scooter, Kaia decided she didn’t want to use the scooter OR walk. She wanted to be carried… you know, by ME. So I had the fun job of carrying not just her but also her scooter which doesn’t even have the option of being neatly folded up. So I’d awkwardly carry her in one arm and the scooter in another. She’s only getting heavier, so I cannot carry her the way she wants to be held, so she’d get mad at the weird positioning and start fussing. Today while on our way home after school, she decided to abruptly get off her scooter with only four seconds left on the walking countdown, right in the middle of the street, and SIT RIGHT THERE.

It was rush hour obviously at that time. Tons of cars are waiting for their green light. And me. And Kaia. And the green scooter. But they all, of course, stay still and watch me as I collect my screaming child and her scooter, off the street and to the safety of the sidewalk. Two bikers who were approaching even got off their bikes to ask if I needed help with Kaia and the scooter. It was very kind and generous of them. No one honked at me or said anything. Both drivers as well as bikers and people passing by gave me sympathetic looks.

There are many very sweet, cuddly, heart warming, I-want-to-squeeze-you-so-hard moments I have with Kaia from the moment she was born to her now as an increasingly opinionated and stubborn 2.5-year-old. But this… this was not one of them. This is one of those moments that makes me think, “Oh, dear. What kind of a teenager are you going to be….?!”

5am nightmare wake-ups without a pacifier

Last night was rough after Kaia refused to sleep in her bed. I thought she’d be better off sleeping on my bed, so I put her on the bed and she passed out within 15 minutes. But then this morning, just before 5am, she woke up screaming and crying, likely from a nightmare. In the nightmare, I suppose I am refusing to allow her to turn on my Kindle. So she kept screaming over and over, “I wanna turn on the Kindle! TURN IT ON! TURN IT ON!” She wouldn’t stop screaming or crying for almost 30 minutes. There were times when I wondered if she’d stop breathing or have a seizure because she was so visibly distraught. Luckily, that did not happen. I tried to calm her down, but nothing worked. Finally, she got off the bed, stomped over to her own bed in her bedroom, and lied down there. She got mad when I didn’t come over, and she started screaming that she wanted “mummy lie down here,” so I went with her to lie down next to her, passed out, and didn’t wake up until 7:40.

The morning routine was fine. I managed to get her to school at just past 9am, which was actually pretty quick when I think about it.

But I guess the paci used to help with her nightmares. Now she has no sense of security without the paci and is vulnerable when these stressful dreams happen. And I suppose it doesn’t help that she is very aware that her Daa-Tee is not here. My poor baby.

The beginning of 1.5 weeks of solo parenting

Chris left for Melbourne yesterday for his cousin’s wedding coming up this Friday. So for the next 1.5 weeks, it’s just going to be Pooks and me at home. Today was our first full day together with Chris, and it actually went pretty well… overall, anyway. Swim class was good this morning — it was Kaia’s first class where I got in the water with her instead of Chris, and she was actually very focused and followed instructions well. The leader of the swim group said she just needs to tilt her chin up a bit more during independent float, and then she can graduate and move on to level 3 class, which means she won’t need to have a caregiver in the water with her. I think we are all looking forward to that day for many reasons.

After we came back from her swim class, we spent the rest of the morning cooking and baking together. Kaia was in a happy mood almost all morning. Sunday late mornings are always fun with her eating because we don’t really put her in a high chair much anymore; she will usually eat as I cook, and it feels like less pressure on both sides. She’s more likely to eat the food since she’s watching it be prepared. Today, she even ate quite a bit of completely raw cremini and king oyster mushrooms, plus raw gai lan, which I never, ever eat raw… At her insistence, we also made muffins. This time, we made apple banana oat muffins with some extra sunflower seeds for crunch. She ate four of them in one go.

Together, we made stir-fried gailan, spicy sesame king oyster mushrooms, air-fryer garlic cremini mushrooms, air-fryer roasted za’atar carrots, and apple banana oat muffins. Sometimes, she got bored and went to go play with her xylophone or her train. Other times, when I’d announce I am doing something and asked if she wanted to see it or “try” something, she’d come running back and up the stool in the kitchen to watch the stir-frying action or the mixing of the muffin batter. She especially loved seeing the muffin batter come together since it meant she got apple sauce…. and even finished the remainder in the jar.

Kaia didn’t fall asleep for her afternoon nap until almost 4pm, which meant she had a late wake-up time. She had a decent dinner, but a terrible bath, during which I insisted we use conditioner (she HATES double hair cleaning, which is why we usually just do shampoo and then do a conditioner spray after). Her tangles have gotten worse, and the liquid conditioner always makes her hair easier to manage (she definitely has my hair!).

Bedtime was frustrating. She pretended to sleep, then every time I’d leave the room, she’d cry. A couple times, she demanded “Daa-TEE!” but I’d insist he wasn’t here. “Where is Daddy?” I’d say. He’s in… Melbourne.” And I’d have her repeat after me.

Kaia would repeat after me, but also resume her pretend sleep game. She knew what she was doing. She even giggled a few times when she knew I realized her “game.” So I ordered her to go to my bed, which she happily did. She fell asleep within 15 minutes.

I got about 1.5 hours to myself during her nap, most of that time spent cleaning, then 15 minutes to myself before bed. This is what solo parenting is like, especially with a toddler who is very aware of who is and isn’t there.

Welp, I hope this isn’t her sleep pattern every night this week…

Brooklyn Children’s Museum

I actually did not realize this until after I visited today, but the Brooklyn Children’s Museum is the world’s first children’s museum. I booked a visit via Culture Pass, which gets me and three guests free access to the museum — that’s a $30 value for both Pookster and me, so I’d say it’s a pretty good deal.

I organized a visit here with my friend, his wife, and their toddler daughter who is about eight months younger than Kaia. After this visit, I can definitively say that the Brooklyn Children’s Museum is much better than the Manhattan Children’s Museum. And I love that the museum tries to incorporate local residents, local businesses, and local history and neighborhood facts into the different exhibits and play areas. There’s an entire area called World Brooklyn that models different shops, from a Mexican panaderia (bread shop) to even a mini version of L&B Spumoni Garden, a popular pizza/ice cream shop in Brooklyn. Of course, Kaia loved all the supermarket, food, and grocery sections, plus the “air maze” where you can stick in different light-weight balls and scarves into tubes, and they get pushed out with air and fly out another side. But I’d say that her absolute favorite was the fake MTA bus. She loved steering the wheel. And clearly all the other kids of many ages love it, too, because kids were constantly waiting to get a chance to “drive the bus.”

It’s nice to visit these children’s museums with Pookster because I know she will always have something that will engage her, and I don’t need to be 100 percent hands on since she will get excited and enthralled by something she finds herself, especially at her age. I also don’t need to have a hawk’s eye on her since it’s a safe space, and there’s no risk of her getting run over by a car or taken by some creep.

She was certainly comfortable here. She even had a blowout. It’s a good thing that I not only had a change of clothing for her, but also a wet bag to contain the damaged shorts.

Frozen dumplings and our “normal” in New York City

When I was growing up, frozen dumplings were always a backup food somewhere in the back of the freezer. Like many other Asian families, we only had these when my mom didn’t feel like cooking but needed to get dinner on the table. The dumplings were always fine, but nothing to get too excited about. As a kid, I was always excited because it was one of the very few things in the kitchen our mom would entrust us to do for dinner, other than turning on the rice cooker. The dumplings were usually the large bulk purchases from places like Costco or Ranch 99 and varied in filling, from chicken and cabbage to beef and mixed vegetables. Sometimes, we even got a “treat” and had mixed shrimp and pork ones. The texture was always very uniform and not particularly interesting.

When I moved to New York, I realized that almost every hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop I liked, whether it was in Elmhurst, Flushing, or Manhattan Chinatown, sold their own dumplings to take home — in frozen form. You could get a bag of 50 pre-frozen dumplings for somewhere in the ballpark of $9-14 depending on the filling (and what year we’re referencing). Because of this, I could “vet” how good the dumplings were by buying them freshly made, whether it was boiled, steamed, or pan-fried. And if I liked them, then I’d be comfortable committing to a bag of 50. Some people are wary of the frozen dumplings from little dumpling shops, but I can say, after buying many frozen bags from my favorite shops, that they cook up exactly like they do by the restaurants as long as you treat them properly.

Bibigo beef dumplings were a frozen brand that we found at Costco years ago that was on sale, so we got it a couple times and enjoyed them. So when HMart opened in our neighborhood, I picked up the Bibigo frozen chicken and vegetable dumplings, also on sale. I steamed some of them to supplement dinner tonight, and while we ate them, I was reminded of all those frozen dumplings I ate growing up and how… they all paled in comparison to my favorite dumpling shops here in New York City.

That’s when I realized how lucky I am to live in a city that has literally endless excellent dumpling shops (and with so many different styles!) that can be bought in bulk, frozen, and made at home. I am spoiled for choice here, and when one shop doesn’t have the dumplings ready frozen, then another one will just a few blocks away. Sometimes on Instagram, I get messages from people around the world, people I do not know personally, who tell me how envious they are that we live in such a cosmopolitan city with so much variety for cuisines — and at approachable price points. Some people tell me that they have to drive at least 50+ miles just to get the most basic Asian vegetable, or a good Indian restaurant, etc. We really are so lucky in so many ways to live in this great city.

Weaning off the pacifier, the nuclear way

When we first gave Kaia a pacifier at around age 1 month, I was a little worried about how she’d be with eventually weaning off it. You always hear these horror stories in parent groups about kids who are 3, 4, even 5 years old who refuse to let go of their pacifier. Pacifier, paci, dummy, whatever you want to call it — it’s not just a toy or another object to a baby or toddler; the paci is a source of deep comfort and attachment. So, if you take away something that provides the child comfort, you are risking a lot. It also made me uncomfortable to know that Chris still had his dummy at age 3; I absolutely do NOT want Kaia with a paci by the age of 3 and really hoped that Kaia wouldn’t be as dead set on hers as her dad was when he was a similar age. If anything, I would have ideally wanted to cut it off by age 2, but given we were doing a lot of travel in that time, I didn’t want to take away a comfort source during a heavy travel/transition period. Last summer, we had mostly weaned her off the paci for daytime naps. So overnight sleep is what she wants her paci for.

Last week, Kaia was being really fussy at every bedtime. She was going through a little teething, as I saw one of her back molars was coming out. She also may be going through a 2.5-year sleep regression. But either way, Chris said that she could have one or the other: one of us on the bed with her, OR the paci. I wasn’t really thinking we’d start this early; I originally thought we’d start the weaning process after we got back from our summer trip. But oh well. In most cases, she chose us, and she’d fall asleep sans paci. At some point of the night, though, she’d come barging out of her room crying, in search of us. She’d come to our bed and indicate she wanted to sleep with us. I get it: it’s hard to let go of a comfort item like the paci, so instead, she wants us to be her new comfort item. I felt so sad for my baby, but I know weaning off the paci is something we want and need her to do. It just came about very quickly and suddenly since Chris just declared it out of nowhere last week. It’s been almost a week now of no paci overnight, except one night when she did choose the paci over us.

Chris has also been telling her things like, “Pacis are for babies. Kaia is not a baby. Kaia likes scooters. Scooters are for big kids.” So because of this, Kaia now says sometimes at bedtime, “Pacis are for babies. Kaia not a baby.” I think she’s trying to rationalize to herself that even though she has an urge for the paci that she should fight the urge and power through without it, and ultimately let it go.

My sweet baby is growing up. It’s trite, but it really does go too fast.

I stepped in Kaia’s shit.

Kaia has been expressing interest in the potty since the beginning of this year. She loves to follow me into the bathroom when I have to pee or poop. Sometimes, when I need to go, I will tell her and ask if she wants to come. Almost every time, she will enthusiastically agree and come into the bathroom running. She will observe my every move, so I make sure to narrate every step for her understanding, from pulling down my pants, to sitting on the toilet seat (NOT THE BOWL), wiping, ensuring I’m clean, then pulling up my pants and flushing the toilet. And of course, she always knows I have to “xi shou” or wash hands right after.

Unfortunately, she isn’t totally ready to potty train. I tried to get her to sit on a toddler potty that I got off of Buy-Nothing, but she got scared and refused. She still cannot fully pull her pants down and up every time. Sometimes, she also gives false alarms by telling us she pooped when she did not. But one thing she consistently does when she poops is: she will disappear from where we are and go silent, go into a corner or another room, close the door, poop in her diaper, then come back to us, usually walking awkwardly with a big stool in her diaper. She did that tonight. When I opened the door to the bathroom she was in, it smelled like her poop, so I knew she had gone. I brought her to the changing station, and SMUSH. Some of the poop had spilled out of her diaper and onto the floor mat by her changing station. I had poop all over my right toes.

I stepped into Kaia’s shit, literally. It was red (from beets), stinky, and mushy. I had no idea that anything had fallen out of her diaper. I was not pleased.

Chris finished with cleaning her up and getting her into a clean diaper. While he did that, I limped around on one foot while spot cleaning the floor mat before throwing it into the washer to get laundered. I also removed excess poop from her blown-out shorts with a tissue before swishing the shorts in a bucket with laundry detergent for a pre-clean, then finally went into the bathtub to wash my own feet.

Well, that was an adventure. Having a child is truly an adventure in itself, isn’t it?

I yelped quite loudly when I stepped in her poop and realized what it was. She then proceeded to parrot my yelp, each intonation after the other, in what Chris said was a “perfect imitation.” Yes, she’s truly a perfectionist when it comes to the art of imitation now, and certainly at the most opportune moments.

This incident reminded me of when we were in Pennsylvania last month, and we were in the lounge room of the hotel with Chris’s parents. I could tell that Kaia was pooping in a corner because she had gone quiet and disappeared for a bit. When she ran up to me, she smelled of poop. She smiled while looking at me and said, “I pooped over there.” She pointed to the window overlooking the parking lot. Shen then led me over to where she pooped. And right there, I saw a small little blob of human poop — her human poop. I immediately brought her back to our room to clean her up and to ensure no other damage was done to her clothes. Then, I promptly went back to the lounge room to remove her poop and clean the area.

All I wonder now is: how many more little round poops of Kaia’s am I going to keep inadvertently discovering…?

NYC 3K school offer and next steps

Last month, the offers and wait lists were released for 3K and 4K (preschool) in New York City. Given that 3K is a total lottery and children are not guaranteed a spot anywhere, I wasn’t sure if we’d get anything. But my hunch, based on enrollment at the 3K Chinese immersion school we toured, was that Kaia would likely get a spot at one of this school’s two locations in Chinatown. And in the end, she did: she got an offer at the location closer to the subway stop. This is the location we never toured, so we came here today to see what the space looked like and to meet with the director. Of course, given it’s Chinatown, it’s in an old building. You either go up a small elevator or take some narrow, slightly windy stairs up to the second level to where the school is located. The space looked fine — it wasn’t anything to impress given the old building. But there seemed like there was ample space, plus a large separate room for activities like “gym,” yoga, and play when the weather was not great out. I do like that they prepare all meals onsite and that we would no longer have to pack lunch or snacks anymore unless we wanted to. The meals are a mix of Western and Asian food, so Kaia would occasionally get her Asian greens fix made by someone who wasn’t me. They follow the Department of Education curriculum, and there’s always two teachers in the class at least, one who teaches in English and a second who delivers the same messaging in Mandarin Chinese. In the afterschool program that runs after 2:50pm until 6pm, they also do tracing of Chinese characters and writing — this would have an out of pocket cost.

When we got the offer, I knew we were lucky to have any offer. That’s the attitude of most parents whose children get a 3K spot. That’s why so many parents have commuted from Brooklyn into Manhattan and back for their kids who got into this school. I corresponded with a couple of them over Facebook message, and I get what they mean. Is a double commute going to be harder than taking a 4-block walk to our current daycare/school? Yes — a lot, lot harder. It’s going to take a LOT more time for all of us. Sometimes, I’m sure the subway will be cramped and annoying. It will really, really suck on rainy and snowy days, just as the other parents commuting from Brooklyn told me. We’ll also have to get a monthly Metro card again, which I haven’t done in about eight years. But I think we can do it for at least one school year and see how it goes.

I also thought about the pros: Kaia will have exposure to Mandarin (and better Mandarin…) from people outside of just me — The more exposure, the better, so that the language can stick to her more. She will have the opportunity to speak in Chinese with classmates and other teachers. She’ll see what it’s like to do a subway commute daily. And I’ll always have access to all my beloved Asian greens, baos, and ingredients every single day and won’t even get a chance to “miss” them. Who knows – maybe some Fridays, we’ll even all do dinner down in Chinatown or somewhere else on the Lower East Side. It’ll be a new routine for all three of us.